Whether "drought" is a term that describes weather conditions expected in northern Utah this summer depends on your point of view.
"It's a real nagging danger," said hydrologist Gerald Williams. "If you're dry-land farming, then we're definitely in a drought."But it is probably premature to say in general terms that a drought is ahead. "It depends on how long it stays dry," said Williams, the hydrologist in charge for the National Weather Service's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.
According to the National Weather Service's April 1 statistics, the water level in most reservoirs in the state is at or above average for this time of year.
Precipitation levels in south-central and southern Utah were above average over the winter, making the summer forecasts less threatening. But a scant winter snowpack in northern Utah is resulting in record low streamflows and has irrigators in the north watching the statistics and forecasts closely.
Reservoir and water system managers are also watching the forecasts to judge the status of different water supplies. "They have to know the
water rights and where they're going to have shortages so they can shuffle supplies around." Sometimes inadequate distribution systems create shortages when water is available but in the wrong place, Williams said.
"This year will not be nearly as serious as it could be if it hadn't been for the amount of storage in the reservoirs," he said.
But streamflows that feed northern Utah reservoirs are well below average while the demand this summer on stored water will likely be higher than average.
Weather patterns during the coming summer, fall and winter will have a more dramatic impact on next year's water supply because a second dry year in a row would make filling reservoirs more difficult, Williams said. "If we have a continuation of below normal precipitation for the next year, then it becomes fairly serious."
William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service, said Tuesday that if present dry conditions persist into May that "we will have to draw on some reservoir storage, which would really hurt water supplies."
Alder said it appears that Pineview and East Canyon reservoirs will not fill this year. And conditions are marginal for filling of five other reservoirs: Deer Creek, Rockport, Lost Creek, Willard Bay and Echo.